The following excerpt was published July 4 on Zenit.com
Here is the text of a sermon given today by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia at a Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to close the Fortnight of Freedom. Today, Independence Day, brought a conclusion to the fortnight, which the US bishops had called as an opportunity for prayer and catechesis on the importance of religious freedom.
* * *
Philadelphia is the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were written. For more than two centuries, these documents have inspired people around the globe. So as we begin our reflection on today’s readings, I have the privilege of greeting everyone here today — and every person watching or listening from a distance — in the name of the Church of my home, the Church of Philadelphia, the cradle of our country’s liberty and the city of our nation’s founding. May God bless and guide all of us as we settle our hearts on the Word of God.
Paul Claudel, the French poet and diplomat of the last century, once described the Christian as “a man who knows what he is doing and where he is going in a world that no longer knows the difference between good and evil, yes and no. He is like a god standing out in a crowd of invalids. He alone has liberty in a world of slaves.”
Like most of the great writers of his time, Claudel was a mix of gold and clay, flaws and genius. He had a deep and brilliant Catholic faith, and when he wrote that a man “who no longer believes in God, no longer believes in anything,” he was simply reporting what he saw all around him. He spoke from a lifetime that witnessed two world wars and the rise of atheist ideologies that murdered tens of millions of innocent people using the vocabulary of science. He knew exactly where forgetting God can lead.
We Americans live in a different country, on a different continent, in a different century. And yet, in speaking of liberty, Claudel leads us to the reason we come together in worship this afternoon.
Most of us know today’s passage from the Gospel of St Matthew. What we should, or should not, render unto Caesar shapes much of our daily discourse as citizens. But I want to focus on the other and more important point Jesus makes in today’s Gospel reading: the things we should render unto God.
When the Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus, he responds by asking for a coin. Examining it he says, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” When his enemies say “Caesar’s,” he tells them to render it to Caesar. In other words, that which bears the image of Caesar belongs to Caesar.
The key word in Christ’s answer is “image,” or in the Greek, eikon. Our modern meaning of “image” is weaker than the original Greek meaning. We tend to think of an image as something symbolic, like a painting or sketch. The Greek understanding includes that sense but goes further. In the New Testament, the “image” of something shares in the nature of the thing itself.
This has consequences for our own lives because we’re made in the image of God. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the same word, eikon, is used in Genesis when describing the creation. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” says God (Gen 1:26). The implication is clear. To be made in the image of God is more than a pious slogan. It’s a statement of fact. Every one of us shares — in a limited but real way — in the nature of God himself. When we follow Jesus Christ, we grow in conformity to that image.
Once we understand this, the impact of Christ’s response to his enemies becomes clear. Jesus isn’t being clever. He’s not offering a political commentary. He’s making a claim on every human being. He’s saying, “render unto Caesar those things that bear Caesar’s image, but more importantly, render unto God that which bears God’s image” — in other words, you and me. All of us.
And that raises some unsettling questions: What do you and I, and all of us, really render to God in our personal lives? If we claim to be disciples, then what does that actually mean in the way we speak and act?
Thinking about the relationship of Caesar and God, religious faith and secular authority, is important. It helps us sort through our different duties as Christians and citizens. But on a deeper level, Caesar is a creature of this world, and Christ’s message is uncompromising: We should give Caesar nothing of ourselves. Obviously we’re in the world. That means we have obligations of charity and justice to the people with whom we share it. Patriotism is a virtue. Love of country is an honorable thing. As Chesterton once said, if we build a wall between ourselves and the world, it makes little difference whether we describe ourselves as locked in or locked out.
But God made us for more than the world. Our real home isn’t here. The point of today’s Gospel passage is not how we might calculate a fair division of goods between Caesar and God. In reality, it all belongs to God and nothing – at least nothing permanent and important – belongs to Caesar. Why? Because just as the coin bears the stamp of Caesar’s image, we bear the stamp of God’s image in baptism. We belong to God, and only to God….
For complete speech, click here.